Two events occurred in the last few days. Decide for yourself if they are entirely unrelated. Yesterday, I purchased a dozen eggs at the supermarket. Today I dropped my 5-year-old daughter off at her Kindergarten class. See the connection? Perhaps you may find one if you are willing to take the conceptual leap of examining the fate of the chicken alongside that of a typical kindergartner.
My daughter is one of eighteen students attending kindergarten in a public school in the Northeast Bronx. The class is held in one of four trailers set up in the back of a towering school. The presence of the trailers and the fenced off mini-playground reduces the size of the free play space available for all of the students in the school. The trailer reminds one of a hastily assembled relief camp when compared with the majestic brick and mortar school.
Once inside the trailer, the students struggle for space. Tables take up much of the available room and supplies ring the room. Small sections of the class are divided off to meet the current educational craze of "centers." Yet, it is difficult to imagine how the teacher navigates through the class, much less how a 5 year old could not feel like the walls are closing in. Not surprisingly, the moments my daughter noted after school related to when she left the trailer for more wide-open space - in the playground, or the cafeteria or the gym.
The cramped space also seems to have determined what lessons the teacher chose to emphasize in class. One of the first was learning how to stay quiet - a necessity for keeping order among closed-in youngsters. My daughter related the story of the first rule breaker. A little boy was humming during the "stay quiet" exercise and the teacher came down on him hard, or at least as hard as a kindergarten teacher could.
While my daughter was in school, people were in the supermarket buying eggs. They were also concerned about space - in this case, the space the chickens have to roam. Egg buyers conscious of their own health now search through the various tags on the cartons - vegetarian, no antibiotics, no meat - to find the eggs laid by cage free chickens. They are a bit more costly, but a visual examination of supplies on the shelf reveals that they are moving fast. Free ranging chickens most often produce good eggs.
The cage-free egg craze is a movement against the battery cages typically used to pen-in egg-laying chickens. The Humane Society (HS) reports that caged hens typically have only 67 inches of space. This prevents them from laying eggs in a nest, running or spreading their wings. The "tangible benefits" provided by a cage-free environment do not end all of the cruelty, but, according to the HS, are a significant improvement.
Since our society seems to have recognized the need for chickens to "spread their wings" why not our children? If the hens have a right to be cage-free, shouldn't a kindergartner be afforded the same ability to range freely? Moreover, shouldn't these same children, like their chicken counterparts, be allowed to do what comes naturally - to play instead of test, to explore instead of learning how to be quiet?
Perhaps we can take one up from animal rights crowd and begin a movement for the liberation of human children. Call it "free range children." An attempt to provide every young person with the right to play, run and spread their wings.
Billy Wharton is the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have been published by the Washington Post, Counterpunch and In These Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org